| A Coast Guard Maritime Safety officer stands guard in New York on Thursday. (Reuters)
London, Sept. 19 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush said today he will ask the US Congress to endorse a possible attack against Iraq if needed, and he warned the UN Security Council to deal with Iraq or Washington would step in.
With Washington demanding Baghdad scrap its weapons of mass destruction or face attack, US generals gathered in the Gulf as diplomats said UN arms inspectors would need weeks to start work in Iraq.
“The United Nations Security Council must work with the United States and Britain and other concerned parties to send a clear message that we expect Saddam to disarm, and if the United Nations Security Council won’t deal with the problem, the United States and some of its friends will,” Bush told reporters.
But in Europe, UN Security Council members Britain and France remained split over what the United Nations must do next about Iraq, after Baghdad agreed on Monday to let inspectors back in without conditions after nearly four years.
Keeping up the pressure on Iraq to meet UN disarmament demands or face the threat of an attack, top US military brass met in Kuwait for two days of talks amid increased US military movements in the region.
The United States accuses Iraq of amassing weapons of mass destruction, a charge Baghdad denies, and has a stated aim of “regime change” in the Arab country led by President Saddam Hussein.
US army Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads the US Central Command (CENTCOM), arrived in Kuwait today to chair the talks among heads of US army, navy, air force, marines and special operations. CENTCOM covers a wide region including the oil-rich Gulf and Afghanistan.
The United States has been sending heavy equipment and ammunition to Kuwait for several weeks, said to be part of a training programme with German and Czech involvement, and US troops started a desert exercise there this month.
Like other regional states, Kuwait has hosted US forces since the 1990-91 Gulf War, which ended Iraq’s seven month occupation of its neighbour Kuwait.
Franks flew in from Doha, Qatar, where he discussed with leaders plans for a permanent US military presence in the small Gulf state, US and Qatari officials said.
Prompting speculation Qatar could be used as a launch pad for a possible attack against Iraq, officials said up to 1,000 additional members of US forces would be moved to a rapidly expanding US military base.
Other countries in the region were clearly nervous about the latest developments.
“If there is military action against Iraq, even if Turkey does not want to join that action, when it happens Turkey will be affected by that action,” Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said in a television interview.
Nato-ally Turkey, which allows US and British warplanes to use one of its bases to patrol a no-fly zone over northern Iraq, has urged Washington repeatedly to avoid military action.
“That is why we prefer our American friends find a solution to their problems with Iraq in a way that does not open the road to military action,” Ecevit said.
Britain, Washington’s closest European ally, said the UN must make clear to Iraq that it still faces military action unless it complies with the spirit and letter of UN demands to scrap weapons of mass destruction.
“What is crucial is that the international community, through the Security Council, makes clear to Iraq that these inspections have to be without conditions, without delay and without games,” foreign secretary Jack Straw told reporters.
But France said consensus within the Security Council on Iraq’s disarmament was its top priority, and like fellow Security Council member Russia, said it was not convinced a new UN resolution was needed.